Traits of Your Dream Team, Part I

Posted on May 7, 2010


Several years ago a trade magazine published an article on traits of ideal clients (I tried several internet searches to give editorial credit, but to no avail).  Architecture firms wrote in what they looked for in a client; if they could compose the ideal client, what attributes would they have?

On the surface this might have obvious conclusions:  a non-demanding client with an unlimited budget who pays well and lets the team do whatever they want. Surprisingly, this is not only unreasonable, but inaccurate.  Architects actually want contraints like design parameters and a budget; they want to be challenged by their clients and projects. A secret among architects is that designing something where there are no limits is much more difficult than designing with rules, and architects often admit they produce better work when trying to solve a very specific problem.

Determining ideal qualities in a client or partner is part of a selection process that marketing calls segmentation.  The idea is that not every design team is a potential fit with every institution. Clients and designers do not get matched up at random any more than people get married at random; there is a definite match-making component at work, and a very important analysis on both ends. Client selection for me involves figuring out how my company and team’s proficiencies, strengths and interests can be best maximized with a client.  But not just any client:  a client that fits a profile, a client I feel I can work well with. 

This also involves avoiding projects with clients that I know do not match up well because the wrong match is an exercise in frustration. For instance, if an owner likes a formal decision process, in-depth research on every issue, micro-managing and revisiting past decisions, with all decisions coming when he is comfortable, good and ready, design-build is not the best fit for his projects. Oh it might work, but the method and results will not be maximized, the teams involved will likely get frustrated, and satisfaction will not be highest for all involved. The Deliberate Dictator owner, therefore, does not fit my segmentation profile because prompt, decisive actions are an important part of the design-build project delivery model’s value.

What makes a Dream Team?

A Dream Team is a project team composed of members that share the same vision for a project.  Not all projects can have a Dream Team, but we try.  Dream Teamers are project partners you might hire for your own organization because they seem to match your values, have similar processes, and work well with you. 

The following attributes apply to architects seeking clients, clients seeking consultants, builders seeking subcontractors, engineers seeking engineers, developers seeking design-builders—pretty much any situation where one organization wants to team with another to get a job done. The key here is compatibility.  Do you recognize a client, colleague, or yourself (or how you aspire to perform) in any of these comments?

Compatibility Areas

  • Project Management Traits
  • Design Sophistication
  • Communication Instincts   (included in future “Part II” post)
  • Business Sense   (included in future “Part II” post)
  • Character Traits   (included in future “Part II” post)

Project Management Traits

  • Makes timely decisions; answers questions quickly
  • Has in-depth knowledge of how projects are designed and built
  • Commitment to efficiency and economy
  • Holds project team members accountable for their individual responsibilities, including themselves
  • Begins each project with a formal visioning session, which brings team together for a half-day of presentations, Q&A, and team building
  • Service-oriented toward end users
  • Realistic about changes
  • Does not arbitrarily set unmanageable goals
  • Works with consultants to develop and adjust program, scope and schedule requirements; collaborates to establish realistic budgets and schedules
  • Interested in fair solutions to project problems; does not play the blame game
  • Helps drive clear decisions from staff and users
  • Implements a formal review process and sign-off at each phase with all departments
  • Understands and achieves state design approval efficiently
  • Contacts design and construction team for advice on maintenance issues
  • Meets with team every two weeks, or more frequently, to discuss owner, architect, and contractor issues and review progress
  • Understands perfection is rare, but expects diligent work to correct problems
  • Committed: took personal responsibility for sustainability issues
  • Team player:  includes project team in non-work events

Design Sophistication 

  • Appreciates excellence and long-term quality; aspires to continuous quality improvement
  • Insists projects represent the latest thinking in the design
  • Looks for the right solution, not just the quickest or least expensive
  • Educated professionals who understand planning and design
  • Respects the work, opinions, and ideas of everyone
  • Appreciates collaboration, and likes to interact during workshops
  • Encourages and implements radically new design and engineering approaches
  • Provides team with challenges and opportunities to expand expertise
  • Has defined ideas, but looks for professional input, exploration and creative solutions
  • Insists all buildings fit into a strong architectural context, built of the highest-quality materials, and designed to user needs
  • Cohesively joins architecture with civil engineering and landscape design
  • Welcomes a bold approach, but not without substance
  • Patient and rigorous intellectual expectation of thoroughness

See continuation of list in a future post, “Traits of Your Dream Team, Part II”